Monday, June 23, 2008

The Miracles of Jesus

It's very easy to get into a rut in reading and hearing all the miracle stories of Jesus. Since we don't spend much time in the Gospels, sometimes we just go there to gather apologetic evidences that Jesus is God. Look at the miracles Jesus performed. He healed a boy of sickness and he raised a man from the dead! Powerful miracles. Look, see, Jesus is God! This is the proof!

Well, not really. Lots of prophets in Israel performed miracles, even raising people from the dead (Elijah, for example). They all weren't God, were they? Of course not.

But we've gotten into a rut when we read the Gospel stories and we're not able to do much more with the accounts of Jesus' many mircles other than say that the Gospel writers are simply piling up evidence that Jesus is really powerful. To prove he's God Jesus goes around zapping people. Zap. This man's sickness is gone. Zap. This guy's hand is restored. Zap. This person can now walk. Zap. This woman's son is raised from the dead. Zap. Zap. Zap.

We're lazy. We don’t really listen to the individual miracles stories and pay attention to the details. We think we know in advance, regardless of the details, what the story is about. It’s always only about the power of Jesus as God to heal and raise people from the dead. It’s always about proving that Jesus is God by means of these miracles.

The miracles of Jesus are not primarily to prove he was God. That’s not the point. Not simply evidential displays of his divine power. This is a modern way of reading these stories—that jesus needed to prove his divinity to people who demanded evidence. We're reading our epistemological pathologies back into the text.

After all, if Jesus really wanted to show he was God by power-miracles, then he would have marched right over the temple, called a press conference, and then proceed to levitate the temple or something showy like that. Or why not vaporize the city of Rome? Something really big and cool. Something that would be so memorable that it would never be forgotten or doubted. Hmm. Yeah, right.

That's not what he did. Jesus' miracles are signs and symbols. Jesus is enacting the climatic fulfillment of the prophecies of old—that God would come and redeem Israel and the world. Jesus miraculous acts show us that Israel’s history is coming to a climax and the kingdom promised by the prophets was being inaugurated.

This past week I preached on Luke 7:1-17. The story of the healing of the Centurion's slave is also found in Matt. 8, but narrated in a different way. Why does Luke tell the story as he does? Interestingly, the emphasis does not fall on the healing itself. That’s not very developed at all and happens off scene. What is developed is the how the centurions request is delivered, the disconnect between the Jewish elder's rationale ("his is worthy") and the Centurion's real attitude ("I am not worthy"), and his amazing understanding of Jesus' status. But I'm not going to preach all of this here. I'm just calling attention to the fact that the miracle itself is marginalized in the story.

Similarly, after this in Luke 7, the account of the resurrection of the young man in Nain has details that must be carefully considered. Even describing it as "the resurrection of the young man" like I just did, alerts you to something odd in the narrative. It's not really about the young man. It’s the woman who is highlighted in the story. The dead man is simply identified as “his mothers only son.” And all the attention is on her. She was a widow. A considerable crowd was following HER. The Lord saw HER. He had compassion on HER. He said to HER, “don’t weep." And when the young man was raised, “Jesus gave him to his mother.”

These Mircles do indeed manifest that Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh, but they do so not because they are great acts of power and control—but rather they reveal the character of God in Christ—gracious and merciful. They are signs and symbols of Yahweh’s loving intentions for his people.

By doing these miracles, Jesus is announcing in his deeds that the promised great renewal of Isreal and of all creation was beginning. The King has come and is about his business of healing and restoration.

According to Luther, we hear the stories of Jesus' miracles and conclude: “Faith is a firm and certain conviction about God or a confidence in God to the effect that through Christ He is gracious, that through Christ his thoughts about us are thoughts of peace, not of affliction and wrath.”

No comments: